Sermon October 31 — “Right the Vision”

Reverend Stacy Swain

“Right the Vision”

Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4;  John 5:1-9

According to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center there has not been another time in recent history when the American public has been more dispirited.   More than half of those polled said they were frustrated with the way things are in our country and only 20 percent that felt they could trust the federal government at least some of the time.[1] This deep dissatisfaction is not reserved for government alone, however.  Over sixty percent said they were equally distrustful of large corporations; banks and financial institutions; and national news media. 

If Habakkuk were to have commissioned a poll in his time I am sure results would not have been much better. Writing in the later part of the sixth century BCE – Habakkuk faced a time of social decay and military threat — a time of violence, wrongdoing, trouble, strife, and contention.  Habakkuk laments that the law is slack, justice never prevails and the wicked surround the righteous.

 Nor would rating be much higher, I’m afraid, were we to poll that paralyzed man who lay near the pool by the Sheep gate in Jerusalem.  This man had been lying beside the pool for thirty eight years, a veritable life time in the ancient world, trying to get himself into the waters at just the right time.  For it was believed that the pools only possessed their healing powers when angels on high came down and stirred the waters, agitating the pool. And so those crowded around the edge watched the water with anticipation and when the bubbles began to rise and the water began to churn, those closest would slide into the pool to receive the blessing of healing.  The paralyzed man could not compete with the crowd and there was no one to help him and so for thirty eight years he sat on the edge in his frustration and discouragement.  

Be it those around us today who long for a future they can believe in, or Habakkuk who waits for a vision or that paralyzed man who wants to be healed, wherever one may be, whatever our station or ailment, the human heart longs for a way out of discontent, out of fear and sickness.  The human heart longs for hope, vision and wholeness.    Whether it be the cry of many or the sole longing of one human heart, humanity aches for relief.

Now if there is one thing that we as people of faith have learned from the great story of God with us, it is that God cannot and will not ignore this cry of the human heart.   That is the Good News that our world so desperately needs to hear.  The story we are called to share is that God so loved the world that God took on flesh and dwelt among us so that our discontent, fear and sickness may be transformed into hope, vision and wholeness. 

While those around us may be paralyzed by distrust and disappointment, God is moving with a compassion that knows no bounds.   In Bible study we are reading the Gospel of Mark and Sunday after Sunday we see Jesus, with heart wide open, walking right into the middle of fear, illness, hunger and death and transforming those places into hope, wholeness, abundance and life.  Jesus has a way of turning reality inside out opening the world to newness in ways no one thought possible.

               We see this again this morning when Jesus meets the paralyzed man story from the Gospel of John.  Jesus walks right into his desperate situation.  He sees all the people by the pool and singles out the one who is most convinced things will not change.  Jesus sees his need and feels his frustration and so he asks “Do you want to be made well?”  And as the man rants in his frustration, the divine love of God washes over this man through the presence of Jesus, and he is made well.  “Pick up your mat and walk.” says Jesus, and he does.

God’s transforming love knows no limit – this is Good News.  When Jesus shows up good things happen.  While these Gospel lessons teach us to expect nothing less from God, I believe they also challenge us to expect more of ourselves.   While all things are possible through Christ Jesus, we are not to sit back and wait for Jesus our Christ to do all things.

              Jesus is quite clear, you see, that the reason he has come is not to make a spectacle of himself, to display that he knows more and can do more than we ever can.  No, the reason Jesus comes to us, the reason love was made incarnate and walked among us is so that God could teach us the Way of Love.  So that we can learn to be as Jesus is, do as Jesus does, feel as Jesus feels.   Jesus comes to us not to make show of miracles but to show us that through the grace of God we can be miracles of the One God who sent not only Jesus into the world to heal and to make whole but who through Jesus our Christ, sends us all.

 Jesus, who heals the man by the pool, is the same Christ who resurrected from the dead, sends us forth into the world as his body, his hands and feet, commissioned by the love of God, and sustained by the power of the spirit.  Yes it is amazing that the paralyzed man walked away that day but equally amazing, when you really think about it, is that you and I, as church, are called to walk as the body of Jesus in the world!  We are Jesus’ hands and feet, lips and heart.  We are not to wait for Jesus to show up so that the healing that is so desperately needed can occur, but we are to show that through Jesus Christ we may be instruments of God’s healing grace right now.  We are to speak the vision that through God all things are possible and to incarnate that vision through our living.

Now before we get too caught up with ourselves and too heady with our divine commission let us remember that Jesus himself, the son of the most high, love incarnate, said “I can do nothing on my own.” (John 5:30). “I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” If we are to speak a word of hope to the profound disillusionment of our time, if we are to like Habakkuk write the vision and carry it forward, if we are to bring healing to those who suffer, we will do so only to the degree that we see to do the will of the One who sends us.  We will be ambassador’s of Christ, to use Paul’s, words, only to the degree that we too can be moved like Jesus by compassion so that the divine love may spill forth through our own hearts.

          In these trying times when our public life is paralyzed by greed and an insatiable hunger for power and where the public is dispirited and discouraged not seeing any way forward, as church, we are called to give hope and to speak Jesus’ liberating message.  We are called to embody God’s vision and to carry it forward in our time.   Jürgen Moltmann, a German theologian who came to faith in the years following WWII, believed that “In this situation of paralyzing apathy and the creeping recession of the will to live, the Christian faith must show itself in courage for incarnation, in a passionate love of life and in its ardent interest in existence so that life acquires the power to resist death, catastrophe and all the people who pursue them.  The paralyzing feeling of helplessness must be overcome if mankind is to go on promising itself a future.”[2]

We who gather at the corner of Collins Road and Beacon Street are the body of Christ in this place and like Habakkuk we have been given a vision.  It has been written down and we are to carry it forward. Our vision is that all people are welcome into this body and that through the love of God all people can grow into the fullness of who God created them to be.  We carry the vision of a community where the doors of our building and all of our hearts are flung wide open.  Where those that are seeking healing will not be crowded out but will be drawn into the life of the community.  We have a vision for the corner of Collins Road and Beacon Street as a place where not only are the blind, the lame, the paralyzed and the profoundly disillusioned are welcomed but also where the love of God brings healing, inspiration and the courage to be Christ in the world today.  

               So when we encounter the cry of the human heart, let us not only speak of the love of God that knows no bounds, but also let us embody that love so that those we touch may be healed by the love of God that flows through us. 

So I ask you:  How will you fortify and nourish this beloved body of Christ?  Will it by planting blubs on clean up day or cherishing our children by teaching Sunday School. Will it be by pledging or singing in the choir? Will it be by striking up a conversation with the newcomer or by inviting someone you see every Sunday but do not know that well out for coffee?  

And I ask you:  – How will you share the good news of this beloved body of Christ and the vision we have been given with those who are aching for relief?  Will you invite that friend of yours who is going through a difficult time to worship with us?  Will you speak of God’s promise of new life even in the midst of suffering to those who grieve?  Will you practice gratitude so fully that your living is a prayer of thanksgiving that gives other strength through your very witness?

These are hard times indeed and many are dispirited.  But we have a vision and we have been given the courage for incarnation.  We have been commissioned to not only speak the Good News that through the love of God all things are possible, but also to be that Good News.  By opening our hearts with compassion, we can minister to those whose hearts are aching so that through the love of God and in the name of the one who sent us, discontent, fear and sickness may be transformed into hope, vision and wholeness.  May it be so!  Amen.  

[1] Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor: The People and Their Government.  Pew Research Center.  April 18, 2010. Downloaded 10/28/10.

[2] Jügen Moltmann. Church in the Power of the Spirit. Trans. Margaret Kohl (SCM Press: London 1977). P.166